Why it’s okay to struggle with understanding the Bible

Do you ever feel that sometimes you run to a certain verse of the Bible and you just can’t get it?

Perhaps you are at a low point or going through something difficult. When going though hard times, it’s my experience that you often get a whole lot of advice on what to do, but very few examples of modeling that advice. It’s like slapping on a band-aid when surgery needed.

About 10 years ago I went through such an emotional and spiritual dark place and of course, received lots of well-meaning but ultimately unhelpful advice like: Pray more. Read your Bible more. Go on a trip to relax. You just don’t trust God. (That last one isn’t really advice…)

It’s not wrong to encourage one another to read the Bible and pray. In fact it’s our duty to keep brothers and sisters in Christ accountable to the faith they proclaim. However, because they weren’t willing to walk in the dark with me, none of us got to experience the blessing of a community of faith “mourning with those who mourn.”

This is a verse that was quoted at me a lot: “Don’t worry about anything, instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” Philippians 4:6

I was a young Christian and dutiful to follow the Christian checklist exactly. I glued my eyes to the page. I read this verse with all my might and slowly, so that I would not miss one single word of it. But however hard I tried to read and just get. it. in. my. head, I could not understand it with my heart.

I was reading it in a very limited and inward-seeking way and therefore fruitless way. A step-by-step Ikea instruction manual kind of way.

Don’t worry – Ok I’m concentrating…Check

Pray about everything – Doing that… Check

Tell God what you need – Double Check! He’s been listening to me all day

Then I come to the very end of the passage. “And thank him for all he has done”. This part often remained ignored for me. I reasoned with myself that this one couldn’t be done until my circumstances were different. For some reason I was expecting God to answer my prayer before I was able to thank him for it. 

I don’t think I’m the only one who sometimes treats her relationship with God this way. How could I blame anyone for thinking this way? After all this is exactly how the world around us operates. You don’t send a thank you note before you receive a gift, right? Reciprocity.

It turns out that the god I was praying to and the true God in heaven were totally different. The god I had designed in my head was not the one described in the pages of scripture. My small god was a stubborn one who had to be poked and prodded several times before he would even think about turning his attention to me and my problems. He was quite busy enough already. With this type of person you need to negotiate and secure a guarantee.

It was this false belief that in turn, had put a false twist on scripture for me. I may as well have been reading an instruction manual.

Today I am much grown in my spiritual life though not arrived, I read it now through the lens of experience of God goodness. That last verse which I ignored before now stands out to be in heavenly neon yellow ink.

And thank him for all he has done.

What I considered a throw-away line 10 years ago, I now realize is the most important part of that verse and should not be considered separately from the rest of it. 

We are to pray and give our worries over to him with all that he has already done in mind. We are to consider all the worries and weight in the world through the lens of a correct understanding of God’s goodness. Not only for this small verse, but for every single word of the Bible.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Deuteronomy 6:5

This is the wonderful discovery of living Word. Coming across a verse that perplexed me 10 years ago and which now has blossomed into great joy and peace for my heart because I finally get it and it permeates everything.